BEAVER DAM LAKE — Cindy Gackenheimer has spent years focusing on healing the physical, emotional and spiritual matters in human lives. Now her focus is doing what she can to help the environment. Her focus is protecting butterflies and other pollinators with her “Flutterby Garden.”
It all started by accident when they moved to their Beaver Dam Lake home and she wanted a flower garden. A friend designed a flower garden in the front of their home over a septic tank. Among the flowers she planted was butterfly weed and it produced milk pods. That winter she visited a butterfly house in Florida and learned about milk weeds. While tending her garden in the spring she found larvae. “You’d thought I just had a grandkid. I was so excited. That kind of got me introduced to monarchs,” Gackenheimer said.
Her garden began the last couple years as a minister. “I started it then and really got involved the last two years since I retired. It’s just a fun retirement. I’ve always been in healing ministry, both pharmacy and as a pastor and I kind of feel like I’m trying to bring health and healing to our world. Pollinators are important, plus they’re fun. My granddaughter asked why I liked butterflies. They make me happy.”
Today her garden is registered as a Monarch Way Station and is certified through the American Butterfly Association. She is also a part of the Monarch Watch. During the last two years she has added different plants for different butterflies. Her garden has host plants for such butterflies as painted lady, American lady, black swallowtails, variegated fritillary, monarch, eastern tiger and red admirals.
Her garden she claims is a weed garden focusing on plants butterflies and bees like. There are mallow, pearly everlasting, dill, rue, fennel, passion vine, violet, black cherry, false nettles and various types of milkweed plants with vibrant flowers. She doesn’t cut down many plants in the fall as many are used as shelter by insects and home for larvae. “I’ve also had six different varieties of bees. I do what I can to help the environment,” Gackenheimer said.
She also participates in the Minnesota’s Monarch Larvae Monitoring project and Aug. 5 she recorded 95 Monarch eggs and 72 larvae at various stages of development. She also catches wild monarchs, checks the insect for the OE parasite and if free from the parasite, tags the insect and releases it. She also raises a small number of monarchs.
But having a butterfly garden is not all Gackenheimer does for the environment. The couple recycles, re-uses rainwater from rain barrels and composts plants and vegetable scraps.
Gackenheimer and her husband, Jerry, work out every morning at Cross Fit, “so I can garden I need to keep in shape,” and she enjoys reading. They love to hike and camp. “We used to be backpackers,” she said, noting they like to go on 3 to 5-mile hikes, which they hope to do more this winter, she volunteers with Habitat for Humanity providing landscaping for their new builds and reads. “I’m working on some things on the computer, writing down memories from church, maybe starting a blog site. I’m not preaching so I’ve got to start sharing some way.” She also does Bible studies in the area bars in the spring and fall.
She also enjoys photography, taking photographs of the various butterflies that visit her garden and in their various stages of life.
But the biggest interest is taking care of her grandchildren – a grandson and granddaughter who live in the area and another grandson who lives in Connecticut with a grandson due any time. Of course there’s also time to attend their soccer and gymnastic events.
Gackenheimer, who retired as pastor at Celebration Church, Winona Lake, several years ago, will also retire as a pharmacist along with her husband in November.